Everyone knows running a business is hard work, but so is maintaining a marriage. This is a great article taken from the latest edition of Smarter Business Ideas. Allison Tait asked the experts how you can keep your significant other significant, and both of you happy.
A business could be described as an unforgiving mistress. Demanding, insatiable, seductive. No matter how many hours you put in, you can’t help feeling that if you could just give more, you’d find the right buttons to send the whole enterprise into the stratosphere.
All of which can make things difficult at home. While you’re busy pushing, cajoling and caressing the most out of your business, your partner is left to nurture his or her resentment and wonder if you’ll ever stop working late.
Even when you’re working together in the business, there’s no guarantee that things will run smoothly in your personal relationship. In that situation, the business becomes the third wheel, travelling with you wherever you go, sitting at the kitchen table with you, morning, noon and night. If you can’t leave the business at the business, the business can take over!
Most people who have tried to run a business and a relationship at the same time have had that moment of exasperation when they wonder if there isn’t an easier way. Here’s the expert advice on keeping your marriage, and business, running smoothly.
LEARN HOW TO SWITCH OFF
“The biggest problems facing the relationships of small business owners are focus and time,” says Sue Yorston, the centre manager at Ballarat for Relationships Australia (Victoria). “The personal relationship can break down because of the business, but the solution can involve setting up some business systems as well.”
Ben Kehoe, a Brisbane-based management consultant with Industry Consulting Group, says: “If you’re working more than 60 hours a week, either the business has a bigger problem than you’re willing to recognise or your personal problems are keeping you at work. System, routine and habit are the friends of really good business people.”
But for Sacha Crouch, a business and life coach at Sydney’s Activ8 Change, time is not the only answer. “People often think it’s just a time thing,” she says. “But just as important is your ability to stay ‘present’. To switch off thinking about work, so that when you get home, you’re mentally present.”
This ‘switching off’ is the key to ‘quality’ time. “The focus is so important,” says Yorston. “It’s not about paying lip service and creating a space in your diary to spend with your partner or family, it’s about what you do in that space. If I talk a partner into spending time with me, but I know he’s really sitting there thinking about the other things he should be doing… That’s not quality time.”
Of course, switching off your mind is not always easy, which is why you need to practise. “You need to train your brain to be in the moment,” says Crouch. “One solution is to have a practice that you do every day for 10 minutes – meditation, relaxation, sitting on your balcony for 10 minutes. Having an audio prompt to listen to can help and there are many available. This is not about being spiritual, it’s about training.”
DEFINE YOUR GOALS AND PRIORITIES
For Kehoe, who has been married for 35 years and self-employed for 22 of those, making the relationship with your partner central to your life is the key to success.
“We always figured that if we got that bit right, we had some hope of getting the rest of it – business, kids – right,” he says.
That focus helps to offset the ripple effects of resentment, that dark cloud that can engulf any relationship. “The thing about resentment,” says Yorston, “is that it offers you a choice. You can hold it or you can let it go. If you hold it, that’s what you’ve got. There’s no room for anything else. It builds up.”
Airing resentments helps to dissipate them. “It’s not always easy, but you need to try to talk about it,” she says. “Use phrases such as ‘this is how I’m feeling…’, ‘this is not okay…’, ‘this is something we need to work on’.”
When you’re working long, hard hours, however, your partner’s feelings about being left out may be the last thing you want to hear. After all, you’re working on this business for both of you, for all of you – right?
“In the heat of battle I’ve used those words,” admits Kehoe. “Not very helpfully, I might add. It’s important to talk to each other about what you want to achieve. If you both want the business to be supercharged, then great. But there’s no point in getting there in 15 years and finding out that it’s not.”
“You need to think about what it is that you’re doing,” says Yorston. “What is it that you’re achieving? Why do you want it? Is it for a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger boat? What is it that you really need? And how will you know when you’ve got there?”
Having a shared goal is the key. It’s up to each couple to work out their respective roles in a business, but all experts agree that while it might work for your partner to take on some aspects of the business, it should only be what they like to do.
“Even if they choose not to be involved, they need to have an emotional buy-in to the business,” says Yorston. “They need to feel that you’re both aiming for the same thing.”
Crouch suggests setting goals, not just for your business, but personal goals as well. “Start your Monday morning focusing for 30 minutes on the big picture,” she says. “What are your real priorities? Pick the three areas of your life that are the most important – and then look at where you’re spending most of your time.”
She recommends recording your priorities on your calendar first – and then working the rest in around them. Diarising your personal time can work well. If you know you’ll be focusing on your family from 6pm–8pm each day, you’ll find it easier to switch off the work stuff.
“It’s easier to keep present with boundaries,” explains Crouch.
LEARN RELATIONSHIP SKILLS
Relationships are one area in which we’re supposed to instinctively know what to do – and so many of us simply don’t. We bring a lot of things to our relationships from our families of origin – values, traditions, role models – and never stop to think about how they impact on our behaviour. The sad truth is that many of us assume our partner thinks the same way we do. We don’t get around to discussing such things until it’s too late.
It might seem strange to go to a marriage course or counselling as a pre-emptive strike, but what you learn there can make all the difference as you ride the roller-coaster of building a business together. “It’s about choices,” says Kehoe. “It doesn’t just happen. Marriage is not about one person. It always comes back to deciding how a couple wants to be together, work together and love together.”